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The Coaching Tree

by Dan Gunderson

When you look around the landscape of coaching, it starts to resemble six degrees of separation. This guy coached under this legend, who was an assistant under this guy, who took this coach’s philosophies and so on and so forth.

These types of connections are prevalent in the West Region of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The head coaches at Creighton University, the University of Nebraska and the University of Wisconsin all helped North Dakota State University head coach Saul Phillips become the coach he is today.

The head coaches in question are Greg McDermott at Creighton, Tim Miles at Nebraska and Bo Ryan at Wisconsin. Coach Phillips started his coaching career as a graduate assistant under McDermott at Wayne State (Neb.) in 1996.

After one year at Wayne State and two years at Lake Superior State, Phillips became an assistant coach under his former coach at Wisconsin-Platteville, Bo Ryan. After the 2001 season, Ryan would accept a job as the head coach of the University of Wisconsin basketball program. Phillips would follow as Director of Basketball Operations.

In 2004, Phillips would head to Fargo to become an assistant under Tim Miles at NDSU. When Miles left for Colorado State after the 2007 season, Phillips took over as the Bison’s 22nd head coach in school history.

Seeing all four of these head coaches in the same region is nothing more than interesting as they would not be in the same town together until the Sweet 16. I asked coach Phillips on Sunday about having teams like Creighton and Nebraska in the same bracket.

“That’s awesome. Those are two guys that mean a lot to me.”

He also pointed to the fact that the original staff at Wisconsin under Bo Ryan has a large foot print in the NCAA tournament this year.

“Tony Bennett at Virginia, Rob Jeter at UW Milwaukee, myself all of us are in the tournament,” said Phillips. “Why is that? I don’t think I came out of the womb blessed innately with basketball knowledge. I learned from somebody and I learned from a pretty good one.”

There is no doubt that Bo Ryan’s ability to recruit not only good players but good coaches are starting to show in a big way in this tournament.

All these coaches will be firmly concentrated on what their teams need to do to win in the NCAA tournament but don’t think they won’t be paying some attention to what these other schools are doing.

Who knows? Maybe we will get blessed with a Sweet 16 containing both Miles and Phillips.

“Can you imagine the press conference for a Phillips/Miles game,” said Phillips. “That’s as big as it gets. We would do it jointly.”

It would most likely be the press conference that never ends.

You can follow Daniel "Pinto" Gunderson on Twitter at @pintoKFGO or friend him on Facebook. You can hear him on his weekly podcast show on kfgo.com, 740thefan.com or on iTunes called “The Pinto and White Shadow Show.” Pinto is a radio producer within the Midwest Communications-Fargo company.